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Rethinking Charcuterie: Local Brand Creates Plant-Based Meats

The owners of Renegade Foods have cracked the code on recreating the mouthfeel, umami and spice of excellent charcuterie that will enliven your next cheese board.

Of all the meaty dishes I thought never could be delicious without meat, charcuterie tops the list.

Creating the smoky, spicy, fatty flavors of traditional fermented meats is an art that requires time, precision and skill. But the owners of Renegade Foods have cracked the code on recreating the mouthfeel, umami and spice of excellent charcuterie with an entirely plant-based lineup of salumi that will enliven your next cheese board.

Iona Campbell and Kalie Marder have followed a vegetarian diet for most of their lives and went vegan several years ago. The like-minded sisters-in-law share a passion for food, but as plant-based eaters they were unsatisfied by traditional imitation meats on the market.

“They were so boring and had no flavor,” Marder said.

Campbell became interested in meat preservation and charcuterie — despite not eating meat — while living in Spain and working in the food industry throughout Europe.

The experience inspired her to think about how to incorporate the smoking process, fermentation and spices of traditional charcuterie into a meatless product. While living in Sonoma in 2010, she started testing recipes and sharing the results with friends and family.

Now the recipe is perfected. Campbell and Marder mix seitan (wheat gluten), herbs and spices to make a dough that is smoked and fermented to create meatless salumi that mimics the texture and flavors of smoky chorizo, spiced soppressata and sweet Toscana. They also make a winter salami with Champagne and truffles. With traditional salumi-making processes, their meatless products develop a rich, marbled interior and deep-red color.

“It’s been a lot of trial and error, but what we find is … fermentation and slow smoking bring out the umami flavors,” Campbell said.

Renegade Foods salumi is made in Petaluma and is available at several Sonoma County wineries, including Gloria Ferrer Vineyards and Three Sticks Wines in Sonoma, Kunde Family Winery in Kenwood and Thumbprint Cellars in Healdsburg. It’s a product that works well in Wine Country, where many like to share their meals over a glass of wine.

While vegans and vegetarians are a target market for Renegade Foods, Campell and Marder also are hoping to entice flexitarians, who embrace a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eat meat.

“People are realizing that they don’t need to go vegan,” Marder said. “It’s about little changes and providing a delicious alternative.”

So how does the salumi taste? The mix of smoke and fermentation flavor, spices and texture is rock-solid. The taste of seitan is pronounced, so if you’re not into that (or you’re gluten-intolerant), you might not like it so much. Paired with vegan or traditional cheese, it’s an excellent addition to any charcuterie board, no meat required.

A three-pack sampler is $39.75, available at renegadefoods.com.

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